If the National Transportation Safety Board has its way, more people will be subjected to DUI arrests in Alabama and throughout the country, despite the fact that the suggested proposal would have little impact on reducing the number of DUI injuries and fatalities.
The group has recommended controversial legislative action that would change what it means to be legally drunk, reducing the limit from 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content to 0.05 percent.
Our Birmingham DUI defense lawyers believe this is a horrible idea, for a number of reasons.
For starters, it criminalizes behavior that is safe and acceptable. For example, according to a BAC calculator created by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, let’s say you are a 130-pound female. As it stands right now, you can consume about three alcoholic beverages over the course of two hours before you will reach the legal limit of 0.08 percent. If the law were to be changed to a 0.05 percent standard, one drink an hour would put you dangerously close to violating the law if you were to get behind the wheel. So suddenly, having one or two glasses of wine with dinner and then driving home could easily result in a DUI arrest.
Secondly, a change like this would do little to actually solve the problem that the NTSB is trying to address. The issue is that there are 10,000 DUI fatalities in the U.S. annually, and there are tens of thousands of more people injured. Certainly, from a public policy perspective, we can understand why advocates and legislators would want to take action. However, this is not the best way to go about it when you consider that the vast majority of alcohol fatalities are caused by drivers who have a BAC that is well over the current 0.08 percent limit. More often than not, these are chronic offenders whose BAC at the time of the wreck is usually in the 0.15 percent range.
Interestingly, that used to be the limit, prior to the 1990s, before the Clinton administration began a big push for the reduction to .08. Since that time, the number of fatalities has remained at a steady 10,000 annually, meaning that lowering the rate then didn’t have much of an impact on reducing fatal crashes. What makes us think then that lowering it even further will have any effect, aside from generating more revenue for the court system and ensuring that more people have criminal records?
Even the NTSB itself has said that, at best, this measure would reduce the number of fatalities by a mere 5 to 8 percent.
A change like this wouldn’t come simply at the request of the NTSB, however. It would have to gain the support of federal and state representatives. It’s possible even if Congress didn’t get on board, at least a few states will move on this and we could be seeing the lower thresholds enacted as early as next year.
In addition to this proposal, the NTSB in its safety report, Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving, recommends mandatory ignition interlocks for all first-time DUI offenders, including first-time arrestees. Another is an increase of compulsory breath testing – similar to DUI checkpoints – in which all drivers may be stopped and required to provide breath samples, regardless of whether there is reasonable suspicion that he or she is intoxicated. Yet another is passive alcohol sensors, for example built into steering wheels, which could measure a person’s BAC through the sweat in the hands.